Robert Dunbar, the critic and editor who for decades championed Irish children’s literature, died early yesterday after a long illness. He was 76.
As well as reviewing children’s fiction for The Irish Times for more than 27 years, he was a founder member of the Children’s Literature Association of Ireland, which merged with the Irish Children’s Book Trust to become Children’s Books Ireland. He was a lecturer in English and children’s literature, presented a weekly radio programme on children’s books and edited two anthologies, Enchanted Journeys: Fifty Years of Irish Writing for Children and Skimming, both publishedby O’Brien Press. He also edited Inis magazine, was a Bisto Book of the Year Awards judge and received a CBI Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jenny Murray, acting director of Children’s Books Ireland, said: “It is with great sadness that Children’s Books Ireland acknowledges the passing of our friend, patron and children’s books champion, the irreplaceable Robert Dunbar. Robert was knowledgeable about many things, very wise and very, very funny – and of course enormously well-read. He was a pioneer in the study of children’s books in Ireland and to most people, he simply was children’s literature in Ireland.”
Patrick Ness, bestselling author of A Monster Calls, said: “I’m sure this will only echo everyone else’s words about the glorious Robert Dunbar. The warmth of him, the curiosity, the sheer interest! He was right there at the very, very start of my career, reviewing the books with such brilliant emotional intelligence and sympathy. At the launch of A Monster Calls in Ireland, he gave it a completely unexpected speech that took my breath away, not only just about the book, but about what he believed (a belief I share) that books for young readers could accomplish: making the world larger, safer, better. I’ll miss him terribly.”
The Irish Times followed this up with a special tribute page / obituary headed, The Father Christmas of Children’s Books: